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Excerpts from A Different Distance

Across the street, a

girl stands lengthily at the

window, smoking and


looking at empty sidewalks,

sun-soaked on April first.


I wished the tourists

would disappear. Now they’re gone.

Watch what you wish for!


In purdah, in quarantine,

I dice one more aubergine.


—MH, 1 April 2020



Aubergine, once more.

braised, bartha-ed, basil-and-beef-

fried, in any form . . .


The thought invades aurous noons,

leaves sharp pugmarks on my dreams


these still-wintry nights.

Preschoolers play COVID-Age

tag in our courtyard:


not more than two at a time,

and “catch” with an out-flung glove.


—KN, 3 April 2020



We drove out to the

place they called Karantina

where crews of ships from


Europe once waited forty

days to be declared plague-free.


Desolate still, but

in a lonely high-rise, in

a vast gallery,


the ninety-year-old painter’s

new gouaches, texts, tapestries.


Afterward, a huge

Armenian lunch in Bourj

Hammoud with my two


young friends, nobody knowing

quarantine was just starting.


—MH, 3 April 2020



Bedlam just arrived

here, N writes from New Delhi’s

migrant worker camps.


How will they lock down millions

who have neither doors nor roof?


Millions who must walk

many moons to reach a home

to self-isolate.


Prime Minister Modi bids

his nation to light candles.


President Macron,

meanwhile, warned us off facemasks

unless really ill.


Spring: the dearth, in my two lands,

of roses for all the graves.


—KN, 4 April 2020



Rose garden hidden

in the Square du Veneur—

it’s starting to bud,


but the gates are locked, only

kids from the logements sociaux


in the enclosure

peer through the grates, in strange,

bright April sunlight.


Here’s a petition against

euthanizing the sick old.


—MH, 5 April 2020



Sick and old: for Laure

and Serge, teens from Block D, I

now tick both boxes.


L—four-inch heels keen across

cobblestones—rushes to hold


open all our doors.

Their mom, though, no longer hails

me with nod and smile:


chemo-shorn, brow-less beings

in masks could spell one more germ.


—KN, 6 April 2020



One more spell, one more

incantation—it’s only

The Art of the Fugue


or Hildegard of Bingen

or Alice Coltrane: music


calms anxiety.

Abida Parveen sings

a Hafez ghazal,


cross-legged, eloquent hands . . .

I pick out a word or two.


—MH, 6 April 2020



Two words, now, for me:

Hum dekhenge—We shall see.

Iqbal Bano soars


skyward on Faiz’s refrain, and

something steelier than hope


lights the heart once more.

Heart that fluttered last evening,

stalled a few instants:


a frog in the throat these days

hearkens to beasts less winsome.


—KN, 9 April 2020